We humans have this tendency to become anthropocentric. We believe that we are at the center of the universe and that nothing else can be more important than us. As such, we always “measure” the things we see around us against our “own” standards. That is why, if we feel that our cat’s ears are hot, we already assume that our feline friend is sick. We base our assumptions on our own experiences. When someone has a fever, his skin will often feel warmer than usual. Extending this observation, a cat’s ears that feel hot should also mean that it has a fever, right? But, the fact of the matter is that there are a lot of things in our pets that we do not know about. Hence, when a cat’s ears are hot, does this mean it is already sick? Let us find out.
Human vs. Cat Body Temperature
One plausible explanation why you feel your feline’s ears are “hot” is the temperature gradient between the cat’s skin and your own skin.
Felines are warm-blooded animals. However, when you compare their body temperature to that of humans, it is a bit higher. It often ranges between 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. On the other hand, we humans have an ideal body temperature average of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit; although this can range from 97.0 to 99.0 degrees Fahrenheit. As such, you will have a temperature gradient or difference of about 3.4 to 5.5 degrees Fahrenheit. This may not look much, but the different thermal receptors on our skin are so efficient at detecting changes in temperature.
Because of this temperature difference, we tend to take notice of the “warmer” cat’s body temperature. For you, this temperature difference already signals that the cat is sick. For the cat, however, it is feeling fine. As a matter of fact, it may feel that your hands are too cold.
So, is a cat’s ears that are hot normal? The answer is not very straightforward. You have to measure the temperature of the cat to make sure that the “warmth” you feel on its ears is normal or already a sign of fever.
Cat Ears and Body Temperature
The ears of cats are not only for hearing, but also function in the regulation of its body temperature. Unlike us who can sweat to cool down, cats will have to remove excess body heat through their ears, nose, and paws. As such, depending on the ambient environmental temperatures, the temperature of the cat’s ears also fluctuate.
The reason is quite simple. Compared to the rest of their body, the ears are thin. They are also not covered in thick fur, which should help protect them against extreme environmental temperatures. There is less fat, too, that can help insulate the deeper structures.
In warm weather, the blood vessels supplying the outer ear dilate to increase the flow of blood. This way, it can remove excess body heat. In cold weather, the opposite happens. The blood vessels constrict to reduce blood flow and conserve body heat.
Hence, when you do touch your cat’s ears and they feel hot or warm, you have to consider the ambient temperature of its surroundings. If it is hot outside, then you can expect the cat’s ears to be warm as well.
When is a “Hot” Cat’s Ear Not Normal?
Because a warm cat’s ear is often the result of the thermoreceptors in our fingers telling our brain that it is hot, it remains a subjective cue. If you want to know whether your cat’s warm ears are normal or not, then you should take its body temperature.
We already know that the “ideal” body temperature of felines is between 100.4 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Any temperature outside this range can be taken as a sign of something wrong in the animal. For instance, if it is below 100.4°F, then you may have a case of hypothermia. If it is above 102.5 degrees, then it is possible that your cat already has hyperthermia. Most folks do not understand very well the concept of hyperthermia, so we will call it “fever” instead.
Among veterinarians, a fever of between 102.5 and 103.5 °F is still considered “normal”. It is often a sign that the feline’s immune system is trying to mount a defense against infectious microorganisms. You see, there are some germs that get inactivated by a slight increase in body temperature. As such, fever also has a protective function. This is also the reason why most health care practitioners would delay the giving of antipyretics or anti-fever medications because doing so will only suppress the body’s ability to fight the infection.
However, if the fever breaches the 103.5°F limit, then it can be a great concern. If the body temperature reaches 106 degrees, this can already spell organ damage. It often means that the infection is overwhelming the cat’s immune system. In such cases, it is crucial to institute measures that will support the immune system while lowering the body temperature to within normal levels.
Taking the Cat’s Body Temperature
Since feeling for the warmth of the cat’s ears is not a reliable measure of its body temperature, you need to prepare to measure it in a more objective manner. For this, you will need a rectal thermometer and a water-based lubricant like KY Jelly or Vaseline.
Turn on the digital rectal thermometer and make sure that its display reads “zero”. Lubricate the tip of the thermometer using the KY Jelly or Vaseline. This will help facilitate the entry of the thermometer through the animal’s anus and rectum.
Calm your cat and let someone hold it while soothing it at the same time. Lift its tail and locate the anal orifice. Insert the tip of the thermometer and keep on pushing until about an inch or half an inch of the tip has gone in. Hold the thermometer in place and wait for the alarm. While waiting, continue to soothe your cat as having an object inserted through its anus is never pleasant.
Once you hear the beeping tone or alarm of the thermometer, pull it out in one swift motion. Read the temperature on the display and record this for your future reference. Praise your kitty for being a nice pet. Clean the thermometer and wash your hands.
The temperature you would want to see is between 100.4 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature is more than 102.5 and up to 103.5 °F, it may mean that your pet has an infection. If it is more than 103.5 degrees, then you will have to let a veterinarian examine your cat in a more thorough manner.
Correlating the High Temperature with Other Signs
One way you can distinguish “normal” high temperature from one that is an obvious sign of a health condition is the presence of accompanying symptoms and signs. As such, taking the cat’s body temperature is one thing. It is a different matter to take note of the following manifestations that may indicate that something is wrong.
- Very fast breathing
- Loss of appetite
- Reduced frequency of drinking
- Reduced frequency of self-grooming
- Reduced energy levels or reduced physical activity
Deciphering the Manifestations
Elevated body temperatures that subside as fast as they arise are often due to viral infections. There are no other overt signs that may indicate other problems. On the other hand, bacterial infections will often produce fevers that last as long as the bacteria is able to create havoc in the cat’s body. You may also see swelling in some parts of the cat’s body. There may also be wounds that have become infected.
If the fever occurs at least 4 times in a span of 2 weeks, veterinarians call it “fever of unknown origin”. This can be trickier to evaluate. The veterinarian will rely on your observations related to the history of the feverish conditions. This will help him identify the possible cause of the “high” temperature.
Hot feline ears may also signal otitis externa or outer ear infection. In most cases, these are due to yeast organisms and mites.
Cat ears that are “warmer” than usual may not be a sign of infection at all. It is possible that your cat is paying too much attention to its ears that it gets all ‘warmed’ up. For example, incessant scratching of the ears can make it feel warmer than usual.
The excessive accumulation of ear wax can also make the cat’s ears warmer than normal. This is because ear wax obstructs the efficient flow of air. And since the ears are a cat’s way of getting rid of excess body heat, the blockage of the ear canals can also result in ears that feel hot to the touch.
If your cat’s ears feel hot, it does not automatically mean that it is sick. You have to consider it within the context of what your pet is doing, its surroundings, and the presence of any other manifestations.